It has been observed that people with high HDL levels (the ‘good’ cholesterol) benefited from longer lives and fewer heart attacks and strokes. With this observation it was then widely assumed that if you took steps to increased these levels, whether with diet or medication, you could then see these benefits for yourself. Unfortunately, recent studies are indicating that raising HDL cholesterol does not affect your risk of heart disease. Even worse is that doctors are not clear as to why this is the case.
For quite some time it has been known that lowering levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) brought about a decrease in heart disease risk. Drug manufacturers have created many statin drugs that help to reduce bad cholesterol. In combination with the statin drug prescription doctors would also prescribe niacin, which is known to increase HDL cholesterol. This was done due to the studies showing that patients with high HDL levels were observed to have lower instances of heart attacks and strokes.
What is remarkable about the study is that niacin seemed to be working. Patients taking the medicine along with Zocor had higher levels of H.D.L. and lower levels of triglycerides, a fat in the blood. Despite these seeming improvements, the patients fared no better and may have done slightly worse than those taking Zocor alone. That is why the entire theory behind trying to increase H.D.L. levels in patients with heart disease may need rethinking.
Taking niacin does cause some potential side effects. Therefore, if there are no significant benefit from prescribing niacin for patients trying to control their cholesterol it may be best to not prescribe it anymore.
The good news is that all current studies still confirm that reducing LDL cholesterol is a good way to decrease risk of heart disease. If a patient is not able to lower these levels through diet and exercise, or if the patient has extremely high bad cholesterol levels, statin drugs are found to successfully keep LDL levels down. However, doctors must now consider whether prescribing niacin for raising HDL cholesterol is an effective approach. With the latest study it appears that it is not.